Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month: Understanding a misunderstood illness
May is Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month
By Clodagh Meaney
May is both Mental Health Awareness Month and Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) as it's also known, is a mental illness that is characterized by nine potential symptoms: fear of abandonment, unclear or shifting self-image, extreme emotional mood swings, chronic feelings of emptiness, unstable relationships, impulsive and self-destructive behaviours, disturbed patterns of thinking, anger, self-harm and or suicidal ideology.
Early last year, I was diagnosed with BPD which is commonly stigmatised as a difficult and unmanageable illness. People with the disorder are often wrongly stereotyped as being manipulative, dramatic and attention-seeking.
To be diagnosed with the disorder, patients need to have five out of the nine possible symptoms meaning that there are up to 256 different combinations of the illness that one may experience. One person with BPD might have a completely different experience with the illness to that of someone else who has been diagnosed.
Initially, I visited my doctor thinking that I had Bipolar Disorder. I was being treated for depression and anxiety at the time, but I had always felt like there was something more to my illness because, among other things, I did not feel in control of my emotions, and sometimes even my actions.
I was suffering from extreme mood swings, irritability, impulsiveness, severe anger and an inability to cope with everyday occurrences. I also had a history of suicidal ideation and self-harm.
Typically with Bipolar Disorder, depression and mania episodes can last for weeks, whereas I could be feeling extremely high in the morning, and very low by the afternoon.
At the beginning of my treatment, I really didn't know anything about the disorder, the only thing I thought knew about BPD was that it was a hard illness to manage, that it was a death sentence and that therapists didn't want to treat people with a Borderline diagnosis; but none of that is true. Finding the right therapist significantly improved my outlook on my illness. Early on in my journey, I made the decision to disengage from the HSE's Mental Health Services as their engagement caused me harm and trauma at a time where I was extremely vulnerable.
For me, living with Borderline Personality Disorder feels like having an exposed nerve ending, feeling vulnerable and sensitive to everything that happens to me, everything that is said to me, everything that happens around me. I feel emotions deeply. It means I have a heightened sense of empathy. Sometimes, BPD makes me feel like nothing at all. I often feel as though I don't exist or truly know who I am as a person.
Other times, BPD feels exhausting as my mood can rapidly cycle from depression to mania. When uncontrollable anger arrives, while it's not as frequent as it used to be, it is a tiring and upsetting experience.
As a result of my BPD, I find it easy to cut out friends and family, often feeling unstable in the relationships that I do have. I don't have good impulse control, and I suffer from body image issues too.
These are just some of the things I feel on a day to day basis, the only real way to understand having Borderline Personality Disorder is to live it.
Looking back, I began exhibiting symptoms of the disorder at the age of 15, and over the years, the intensity of my experience with it has fluctuated. I was 24 by the time I was diagnosed.
Having a diagnosis is important to me because it gives me a label for the symptoms, it helps me to separate myself from my illness. It has also helped me to access the right treatment and the right information that can help me. Having a name for my illness has given me an exceptional level of understanding for myself, that I did not have before.
There are many possible causes for BPD such as genetics and brain development but the main contributor tends to be environmental factors such as abuse, unresolved childhood trauma or addiction in a parent.
With a combination of therapy and medication, BPD is a manageable illness. For me, that means Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) to manage my thought processes and a combination of anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication to manage my mood. Therapy has helped me to understand why I may have developed BPD and how I can work on living a life that is not controlled by my illness.
I am hopeful that I will soon no longer meet the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder as I continue to undergo treatment. While I don't think I will ever be cured, I am hopeful that I will successfully continue to manage my illness and never allow myself to be defined by it.
If you've been affected by anything covered in this article, please contact:
Samaritans 116 123
Pieta House 1800 247 247
For more information on BPD you can visit the HSE's guide here.